Monday, February 15, 2016

Is the Scientific Method the ONLY Way to Know Reality?

Richard Dawkins tells the story of a conversation with his 6-year-old daughter about wildflowers: She said their purpose was, “To make the world pretty and to help the bees make honey for us.”

In contrast, Dawkins emphasized to her that wasn’t the wildflowers’ purpose, but it was rather to copy their DNA.

In response to Dawkins' negation of teleology, the journalist Jay Ambrose alludes to Ray Bradbury’s speculative dystopia, Fahrenheit 451, and states that the danger of Dawkins’ one-sided view of reality is that Dawkins' "...crusade is not just against religion as such. It is against the brash recognitions of the non-literal, the poetic, of an astonished imagination.”1

First a caution: It seems that Ambrose is short-changing Dawkins with an overstated broad brush, for Dawkins has written many passages in his works where he extols the imagination and the arts and even has an autobiography entitled An Appetite for Wonder.

And Dawkins' huge tome on evolution, The Ancestor's Tale, which traces the history of life back about 2 billion years references and uses the literary structure of Chaucer's famous classic The Canterbury Tales. Dawkins has a strong love of music and other forms of beauty.

But Ambrose does have a point in that Dawkins tends to emphasize the view that only science as understood by atheists has any insight into reality. Dawkins admitted during an interview that ethics are only “subjective,” personal preferences, and are probably "misfirings" (his word) of evolution.

In the interview, Dawkins even said that opposition against rape is only a subjective preference!

Ambrose continues, “While science is a marvelous avenue to an ever-expanding awareness, it has limits. Life and the universe are larger than science, and there are other ways of knowing.”

But are there other ways of knowing? Or is science the only way like Dawkins and some other scientists claim?

Unfortunately, contrary thinkers like Ambrose fail to mention that in most other ways of “knowing” there isn’t any hard method to ascertain was is real and true versus what is false, illusionary, or downright pernicious.

In so many ways, aesthetics, philosophy, and the other humanities, even the great stories of historic human imagination (the ancient “myths)--these methods are ways of perceiving, not knowing.

Creative perceiving is important and these other ways do often help humans to what seem to be deeper and higher levels of understanding. But there is no hard probability of finding actual reality in such other fields because they lack a reliable objective method of testing.

If in doubt, read through the history of philosophy or even worse theology. Such disciplines use complex thinking, are employed by brilliant thinkers, yes, by amazing geniuses who reason for various abstract views.

But so many of their conclusions contradict each other.

One philosopher despite his technically difficult prose totally contradicts another philosopher's erudite writing. So even though they avoid logical fallacies, and their reasoning is superb, they don't agree about reality. And there is no hard evidence supporting either, usually.

How then are we to know which view of existence is correct and right?

In contrast, 100 years after Albert Einstein’s famous theory of relativity, more and more discovered evidence is showing a high probability that it is true.

And, though there have been significant revisions and adjustments (such as genetics) in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, natural selection also has been confirmed, most recently by the Human Genome Project.

This is so much so that nearly all biologists declare, not only is evolution a proven theory, it is hard fact.

Still, this dissenting voice by Ambrose has significance. The fact that evolution is true doesn't prove that other endeavors of humankind such as ethics and aesthetics and philosophy are delusions or only fluff.

The truth could be BOTH AND, not either or. (Watch out for the either/or fallacy!)

After all Dawkins and other atheistic scientists are often guilty of overstatement, which isn’t scientific in itself, but rather a rhetorical device.

from Ambrose's article:
“Guy Montag, ultimately turns to books. He finds a famous poem, “Dover Beach,” that he reads to others.

Without faith, it says, there is “neither joy, nor love nor light,/Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.”

“Words like these awaken him [even though they are poetic, not scientific, not factual]...”

“We today are still free…”

That is partially because of philosophy, the Enlightenment ought of rights, and aesthetics. While in contrast, in the last 100 years, scientists have often used the hard scientific method to bring into existence horrific inventions and to deny even basic ethics.

Some such scientists now even deny we humans have any choice at all, but instead claim all of us humans are “puppets” and that our sense of self, our consciousness is an “illusion,” and that even if time and the universe came again a “trillion” times, nothing could be changed, not a single finger move.

We better "get back" (alluding to Joni Mitchell’s famous song) to Bradbury and others including Howard Zinn who are concerned with goodness and truth and justice as well as science.

"But you know life is for learning

We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation

We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil's bargain
And we've got to get ourselves
back to the garden"

"Woodstock" by Joni Mitchell

That 6-year-old child had an important point.


In the Light, the Good, the Beauty,

Daniel Wilcox

1 "Ray Bradbury's Lessons for Today" by Jay Ambrose

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